When Diane Schuler's family has samples of her bodily fluids re-tested, they will show a lower blood alcohol level and possibly no marijuana in her system because the fluids have naturally degraded over time, Westchester County officials said Tuesday.
"Due to the time period that has passed, the amount of alcohol that will show up in the samples when they are retested will be reduced and the marijuana can disappear," said Donna Greene, a spokeswoman for Westchester County and its chief medical examiner, Dr. Millard Hyland.
However, six toxicology experts contacted by Newsday said fluid samples should produce roughly the same alcohol and drug readings as the first test if the Westchester laboratory took all precautions in preserving the fluids.
"As long as they're stored properly, there should be no significant difference when they are retested," said Dr. William Closson, director of laboratories at Brooklyn-based Beninder and Schlesinger, which does toxicology work for the NYPD.
Greene said the Westchester Department of Laboratories and Research officials disagreed.
Westchester's toxicology tests, completed Aug. 4, showed that Schuler, 36, of West Babylon, was driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.19 - more than twice the legal limit - and had "high levels" of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance in marijuana, in her blood, authorities say.
The Schulers have vowed to conduct new tests of blood samples taken during the July 27 autopsy and exhume Schuler's body for review by independent doctors.
Greene did not say how much Westchester authorities expected the alcohol and marijuana levels to decrease, but said it was the result of a natural degradation process. She said the samples of blood, urine, brain tissue and eye fluid were stored properly in glass vials in a refrigeration unit.
Schuler's family has insisted that she would not drink and drive, and contend the Westchester medical examiners made some sort of mistake during the autopsy and toxicology tests. They also contend an underlying medical condition was the cause of the crash, which occurred July 26 after Schuler drove in the wrong direction 1.7 miles on the Taconic State Parkway and collided head-on with a SUV, killing her and seven others.
Thomas Ruskin of the CMP Protective and Investigative Group, which is probing the case for Schuler's husband, Daniel Schuler, said the medical examiner's office has been asked to preserve and do an inventory of all specimens taken from Schuler's body during the autopsy.
"It was our understanding that this was being done," Ruskin said. "We do know from our experts that there are ways of preserving blood and body fluids for longer periods of time in cases similar to this."